Ken Clarke’s reforms to divert young and mentally ill from jail

The government will divert more offenders with mental health or drug problems into treatment and test giving councils responsibility for youth custody in order to reduce jail numbers, under plans announced by justice secretary Ken Clarke today.

In a Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle, the government said it intended to pilot and roll out liaison and diversion services nationally for less serious offenders with mental health problems.

The government said existing liaison and diversion schemes were not consistently available and the proposed services will be along the lines proposed by Lord Bradley in his 2009 report on improving mental health outcomes for offenders.

The Green Paper acknowledged that the criminal justice system was not always the best place to manage the problems of less serious offenders where their offending is related to their mental health problems.

As many as 12% of offenders are believed to have a mental illness or depression as a longstanding illness, while 20% have reported needing help with an emotional or mental health problem.

The paper also included plans to increase treatment places for high-risk offenders with severe personality disorders, from 300 to 570 by 2014, by reconfiguring existing services. Most of the places will be in prison.

It also announced plans to pay providers by results to get substance misusing offenders off drugs and to pilot drug recovery wings in prisons to improve treatment for inmates.

Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of the charity Turning Point, which works with people with substance misuse and mental health problems, said: “Turning Point supports plans to divert offenders from prison where appropriate, particularly those with mental health issues and learning disabilities, whose needs can rarely be properly addressed in a custodial setting.”

Steve Shrubb, director of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, said: “It’s courageous of Ken Clarke to force the debate [on rehabilitation] when clearly it wouldn’t have been received universally positively by some of his colleagues.”

Jacquie Tweedie, chief executive of secure care provider St Luke’s Healthcare, also backed the plans, adding: “We all have an interest in stopping the revolving door of offenders with mental health problems and addictions going in and out of prison at huge expense to the communities in which they live, not to mention the taxpayer.”

The government also announced plans to reduce levels of youth custody and test devolving responsibility for custody to local authorities.

The Green Paper said it saw merit in the argument that councils lacked incentives to effectively prevent young people from entering custody because the costs were borne by the Ministry of Justice.

It intends to pilot giving groups of councils a grant, on top of funding for youth offending teams, that could be used to invest in preventive measures, and agreeing targets with them to reduce custody levels. Some of the grant would be recouped if the targets were not met.

Councils would also be made responsible for the full costs of young offenders placed on remand by the courts, to incentivise them to invest in alternatives for this group.

The Green Paper also announced plans to pay YOTs and youth custody providers by results, and create compliance panels to help young offenders to comply with community sentences.

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